We find that people are more likely to choose tempting but high-calorie food options (e.g., a slice of cheesecake) over more healthy options (e.g., a fruit salad) when they make their food choices online using their fingers (e.g., on an iPad) versus not (e.g., using a mouse on a desktop).
“When consumers reach out to touch an option with their fingers on an iPad, this motor response is similar to the action they would spontaneously simulate in their mind upon the sight of two products—one hedonic and one less so: reaching out to grab the hedonic food.”
With the increasing popularity of the Internet, many consumption decisions are now made online, and consumers use a variety of devices to do so. For example, when browsing a pictorial menu and choosing between a slice of cheesecake and a salad, consumers may place their order by either clicking the picture of the chosen item using a mouse on a desktop or by touching the picture directly on an iPad. Will different interfaces lead to different choices? In this paper, we predict and show that an iPad (vs. a desktop) facilitates the choice of a more tempting food alternative over a more healthy one.
We test our prediction in five laboratory experiments. The participants are exposed to a pair of products, one more tempting and one more healthy, and are asked to make a choice. They make their choice using different computer interfaces: some are touch interfaces (e.g., iPad, touchscreen laptop), and others are nontouch interfaces (e.g., a desktop or a laptop with a mouse). The results of these experiments are consistent: touch (vs. nontouch) interfaces lead the participants to choose the more tempting (but less healthy) option.
Computer interfaces that have direct touch (vs. those that do not) facilitate mental interaction with tempting food options. This increased mental interaction nudges consumers toward the choice of the more tempting food over the more healthy one.
Which interface a consumer uses matters in their online food choice decision. Seeing food images and making a food choice on a touch interface (e.g., an iPad) increases consumers' mental simulation of grabbing the more tempting food, which in turn increases their likelihood of choosing this tempting food option over a more healthy one.
Our findings have implications for restaurants, public policy officials, and consumers. Specifically, they suggest that devices make a difference to what is ordered by consumers. Depending on the goal, this impacts what direction is taken; as such, public policy officials may want to increase the choice of healthy options, whereas restaurants may want to push the choice of more high-margin products.
Questions for the Classroom
Food-purchase decisions are now increasingly available on a variety of computer devices, from desktops to laptops to mobile devices.
Can different computer interfaces lead to different food choices? Why? Please explain your rationale.
If computer interfaces can influence food choices, what should you recommend that (a) consumers, (b) marketers, and (c) public-policy officials do to encourage more healthy food consumption?
Hao Shen, Meng Zhang, and Aradhna Krishna (2016), “Computer Interfaces and the ‘Direct-Touch’ Effect: Can iPads Increase the Choice of Hedonic Food?” Journal of Marketing Research, 53 (5), 745-758.
Hao Shen is Associate Professor of Marketing, CUHK Business School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meng Zhang is Associate Professor of Marketing, CUHK Business School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong (email@example.com).
Aradhna Krishna is the Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan (firstname.lastname@example.org)